Hearing loss believed a problem for youth


WASHINGTON -- When your teen-age child or friend is ignoring you, it may not be a sullen pout. He or she may not hear you.

Thanks to lawn mowers, chain saws, firecrackers, target-shooting and high-decibel stereos, young people increasingly are destroying their inner-ear cells that process sound and are slowly but surely going deaf.

"A shocking fact is that noise-induced hearing loss can begin between 10 and 20 years of age, much earlier than originally thought," Dr. James B. Snow Jr., director of the National Institute on Deafness, told Congress yesterday.

Such hearing loss -- which can even affect toddlers -- is irreversible, he said. But it is almost always preventable.

Expert witnesses said anything louder than an alarm clock or hair dryer -- which generally register about 85 decibels -- can damage hearing.

A "particularly alarming finding," said Dr. Patrick Brookhauser, an ear specialist at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., is that "children as young as 14 months are sustaining irreversible noise damage" from ambient sound.

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